I've been thinking recently about a different question involving horses and herds. I've had my horses at different barns over the years - at some they were turned out individually or perhaps with one other horse, often for several hours and not a full day. At other barns, including the one we are at now, the horses are turned out in herds where their companions are the same horses every day, all day.
I've noticed something odd - and perhaps it's specific to my horses and not to others - turnout in semi-permanent herds seems to make them more attached to their herd members and therefore more prone to being herd-bound. I've found horses on individual turnout or in occasional turnout with others to be less herd bound and more likely to be able to focus on their human partners for riding and work.
I've taken horses to shows in the past, large shows with many horses, and although they're always interested in being with other horses, they don't show the more herd-bound behaviors that my horses often show in a more "herdish" situation like our current barn. That said, if they get loose, they are likely to make their way back to "their" barn and "their" horses, although not necessarily any particular horse.
It seems to me that where there are horse herds available to bond with, the human-horse interaction is always somehow second-rate to the horse. That's not to say that horses can't work, and work well, in these circumstances, but there's a higher barrier to overcome in building a relationship with the horse, perhaps. It may vary by horse, by barn, and by horse/rider combination, and it also seems to me that mares are more prone to this sort of herd attachment - perhaps there's a connection to the maternal instinct.
All-day turnout on grass is supposed to make horses easier to work with and more relaxed, right? I haven't always found this to be the case - Maisie and Dawn, who are of course a TB cross and a TB, are if anything harder to work with in this environment - partly because of the herd and because our barn set-up makes it impossible to work with them consistently from day to day.
I've certainly been able to build more of a human-horse relationship with Maisie over the past several years, and have taken steps to do the same with Dawn, but to them at this point, the herd always is foremost. I'm wondering if Maisie will bond more strongly with me at the new barn since in some senses I will be her alternative to the herd, and can be her "safe place" in a new setting, although I do worry somewhat about depriving her of her herd.
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The vet comes back tomorrow to look at Maisie. The left front had no heat today for the first time - I'm hoping that means we'll get clearance for some sort of limited turnout or hand-walking tomorrow - she's been very patient (even more patient than I have!), but the poor thing really needs to get out of her stall.
Dawn and I haven't started our lungeing work yet - we've been having gale-force winds and Dawn's in raging heat - much squealing and kicking the stall (not to mention (unmentionable) behavior in the barn aisle requiring clean-up - you mare owners will get what I mean) - this did not seem like the best combination of circumstances for starting up again on our work.